Sunday, May 30, 2021

Tatarstan to Have a Muslim Holiday in Memory of Those who Fell Fighting Ivan the Terrible in 1552

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 28 – During Russian Imperial and Soviet times, Kazan marked the anniversary of the occupation of Kazan by the forces of Ivan the Terrible in various ways, including with the erection of a monument to Russians who died in that fighting. But those who resisted his advance were largely ignored.

            With the weakening and then collapse of the Soviet empire, Tatar activists began to mark the event with a memorial day of their own on October 15th each year. But in the last decade, officials have tried to ban it lest such actions anger Moscow. Last year, city officials banned a demonstration on that date but a court overruled them.

            Now, the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan has entered the fray. Its aksakals have announced that they will annually hold prayers in memory of those who died fighting the Russian force. The event will take place on the 13th day of the Muslim month following Ramadan.

            This action has drawn support from Tatar officials who see it as a way for Muslims to take control of a holiday that had been dominated by Tatar nationalists and thus give it more a religious than a political meaning. But others are worried that the two forces are coming together in this way.

            Many in Moscow are anything but happy about this development. Andrey Medvedev, a Moscow city deputy, argues that the new holiday will spark tensions between Tatars and Russians who he says “already for five centuries have lived peacefully in one country”  (

            Nationalism and separatism are dangerous, he says, and what is happening in Tatarstan is the appearance of “a new, completely anti-government discourse. Who needs this? And the main question: why are the government bodies [in Tatarstan] reacting so slowly to all this?” Is this the result of Turkey’s effort to create a Turkic world in opposition to the Russian one?

            And Roman Silantyev, a notorious critic of all things Islamic, says that the new holiday raises many other questions, in large part because Muslims and Christians fought on both sides in 1552. How is that going to be remembered? Will the Muslim holiday recall the Christian defenders of Kazan? If not, why not? (

            Neither Medvedev nor Silantyev, however, refer to what is almost certainly their greatest fear, that the transformation of 1552 from a narrowly Tatar national holiday to a broader Muslim one is likely to mobilize more Muslim groups in the Russian Federation and boost the status of Tatarstan as an increasingly Muslim center as their leader. 

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